The following was sent to me by Karen Banning after a recent meeting of our local astronomy club, the Astronomical Society of Northern New England (ASNNE). Karen and I sing in a choir together and she recently began coming to a few ASNNE events. While a few of us in ASNNE actually get paid to do this sort of thing, most are not professionals and are simply there for the love of astronomy.
Adventures of Karen: Star Date August 2nd, 2013
Driving around Arundel, I’m lost. My only landmark is black-faced sheep grazing on the side of the road. I call Bernie, asking how to get there. “Where?”, he asks. “There”, I reply. He tells me to go north.”Which way is that?” I ask. Do astronomers carry compasses? Oh. I forgot.
Arriving at the observatory, up a well-hidden (by overgrown grass) dirt road, a bunch of scientists and physicists are talking in Alien language. All I know is that Ian sings in my choir and Bernie writes an astronomy column, but the others look smart, until it gets dark and they just sound smart. I don’t really know if they are because I need a translator ring.
Ian has sired a 12 year old – Nate – who will be running NASA when he grows up in 2 years. Bernie is reading the news article he wrote and asks questions like the teacher in my nightmare about a class I did not know was on my schedule and I am in the final exam. “What happened on August 17th, in 1989?” he asks. (I am 120% sure that is NOT the date he asked about.) Someone answers that Saturn’s 5th moon was discovered and someone else dates when the 4th moon was found. I brace for the next inquisition. The only answer I have right now is: “the cotton gin” and I don’t know what question goes with that so I guess “Harvest Moon” and the song is immediately in my head, but I am told that is in September.
As the sky darkens, every star looks the same to me, but some are planets or airplanes. There is a huge telescope (or Earth person transfer station) that moves by remote control and NO it did not hit me in the head. Because someone warned me first. I don’t know who because I can’t see anything. And then, I see Saturn, in the thing you put your eye in. Viewfinder? That sounds like slides. It is about 1/4″ big. Saturn. Not the eye thing. So cute. And 3 pin dot moons and another thing that probably IS a pin dot.
M31 and M32 are next or M81 and M82. They are a bunch of stars. There are 181 Ms by the way [Editor’s note: there are actually 110 Messier objects.] and it means menier or metienne. Close enough. They are star clusters in shapes. Bernie has a laser that shoots up 2 miles and points at stars. It’s like a light sword. It didn’t make that whooshie sound, though. He starts pointing out constellations and the memory of my 3rd grade science project of silver stars on navy paper floods into my mind. I ask if he knows everything. Well, he does. I can’t decide if it is creepy or cool that I feel totally inept.
We track a spy satellite. Really. They can be identified by polar orbit as they track toward Polaris. Nate babbles on and is not only tolerated but encouraged as he follows us around, spouting wisdom. I ask him if I can take him with me to be my own personal database. Every question I ask is answered, when the shadow-people can breathe again after laughing. “I think you need a chiropractor in this club” I suggest, as I hold the back of my neck to look up. The sky is glorious, full of wonder. I can’t name the sparkling pieces but I can be a speck, loving the sight of them.
The next day, I find an app on my smart phone that shows that Kohab is above me and Canopus below me on the other side of the world. Now I have to google those names to figure out what they are. They just might be street names in Arundel.